ABU DHABI // The construction licence for Abu Dhabi’s third and fourth nuclear reactors at Barakah in the Western Region was granted on Monday, the Federal Authority for Nuclear Regulation (Fanr) said.
The Government body said it was also about to establish its resident inspection office at the site to ensure a continuous presence for the remainder of the construction.
“We look on this as a big milestone,” said Dr William Travers, director-general of Fanr. “We put a lot of effort into the review.
“It follows on, and is complementary to, the review that we performed for units 1 and 2. It’s another significant event because it really does represent one of the first times a so-called ‘new entrant’ country embarking on its first nuclear power plant project has received a construction licence for nuclear power plant usage, so it’s quite important.”
Last month, Enec announced that more than 55 per cent of Unit 1 was complete.
“Today is an extension of a long effort to perform a very detailed technical assessment of the application that was provided by Enec in March 2013,” Dr Travers said.
“There’s lots of follow-on to come. Inspection activities at the site are being performed by Fanr in connection with all four units. An important element in the licencing for a nuclear power plant is the fact that this is a two-step process, so while the construction licence is an important first step, it’s not the last step.”
The most important is the operating licence, which is yet to come.
“It’s the point in time when all matters of regulatory significance, including safety and security, need to be resolved entirely,” he said. “At the construction licence phase, some issues can be pending. So the construction licence is characterised as a final decision on the adequacy of the site to host another two units and it is a preliminary decision on the adequacy of the design of the units as they have been proposed by Enec.”
This stage looks at issues that need to be resolved before they can start the safety-related construction of the plant.
“So we have high confidence that the design and site are adequate,” said Dr Travers. “We look at many issues from a hydrological and seismic point of view, and check, for example, whether there is enough water to cool the reactors and whether there are issues like sandstorms that – if they were to be encountered – would create safety problems for the facility. We’ve come to a final determination that site is suitable and acceptable.”
More frequent inspections will also take place.
“We’re out there every other week with a team of people but we’re just about to establish our resident inspection office at the site,” he said.
Inspections will include important elements related to nuclear safety, such as correct implementation of the design, establishment of electrical feeds, equipment and a correct placement of the rebar, as well as further construction of the control room to support the operation.
The Environment Agency Abu Dhabi also undertakes inspections by looking at potential environmental effects that are not associated with radiation and radiological release.
“They might look at thermal discharge from the plants and how that might affect coral and sea life,” Dr Travers said.
“We’re obligated to look at the potential impact of any radiological releases both in the normal operational context, as well as theoretically postulating the possibility of an accident and what impact that might have. The site is viewed to be acceptable for those four units.”
Fanr is expecting an application from Enec for an operating licence for units 1 and 2 within the next few months.
Hamad Alkaabi, the UAE Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency, said the approval represented a green light for Enec to start the construction of reactors 3 and 4. “The UAE nuclear programme is well-recognised internationally for its transparency, fast-moving progress and strong safety framework. The project can now expand to the next phase.”
A training programme was also launched on Monday by Enec and Abu Dhabi Polytechnic to develop a skilled Emirati workforce to support the UAE’s nuclear energy industry. They will collaborate on a customised nuclear energy curriculum for students of Enec’s Energy Pioneers scholarship programme.
Mohammed Al Hammadi, Enec’s chief executive, said nurturing the next generation of nuclear energy leaders in the UAE was one of Enec’s top priorities.